Cold War

LTV A-7 – Worthy of the Corsair Name?

Known for its carrier-based operations, the A-7, also referred to as the Corsair II, distinguished itself with its impressive design and capabilities. Developed in the 1960s, it served as a testament to the technological advancements of its time.


Design and Development

The design of the Vought A-7 Corsair II traces back to the early 1960s, during a period when the United States Navy sought a new light attack aircraft.

This requirement arose from the need to replace older models like the A-4 Skyhawk with something more advanced and capable. Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) seized this opportunity and proposed a design based on their successful F-8 Crusader.

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LTV’s engineers approached the A-7’s design with an innovative mindset. They aimed to retain the proven airframe of the F-8 but refocus its capabilities towards ground attack.

This shift necessitated significant redesigns, particularly in avionics and armament. The team focused on creating a platform capable of delivering precise strikes, a requirement critical for modern warfare.

The F-8 and A-7 share some similarities.
The F-8 and A-7 share some similarities.

A standout feature was its advanced avionics suite. The engineers equipped the aircraft with a cutting-edge navigation and attack system, the AN/APQ-116, which was revolutionary at the time.

This system allowed pilots to execute precise bombing runs, even in adverse weather conditions, a capability that significantly enhanced the Corsair’s operational effectiveness.

Furthermore, the A-7 featured an integrated digital weapons delivery system. This system, advanced for its era, enabled the aircraft to employ a range of munitions with remarkable accuracy. The design team ensured these systems were user-friendly, allowing pilots to operate them effectively with minimal training.

The selection of the powerplant was a critical aspect of the A-7’s development. LTV chose the Allison TF41-A-1 turbofan engine, a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Spey engine. This engine choice was pivotal in achieving the desired balance between performance and efficiency.

The TF41-A-1 offered a higher thrust-to-weight ratio compared to the engines used in the aircraft’s predecessors, granting the A-7 extended range and improved fuel efficiency.

Head-Up Display in the 60s?

To enhance the aircraft’s ground attack capability, LTV designers incorporated a unique feature: a heads-up display (HUD). This technology was relatively new in aircraft design at the time and provided pilots with essential flight information projected onto the windshield, allowing them to maintain their focus on the target and surroundings during attack runs.

The cockpit of an A-7D.
The cockpit of an A-7D.

Structural Modifications and Testing

Structurally, the A-7 differed from the F-8 in several ways to accommodate its new role. The aircraft featured a shorter and broader wing, which improved its payload capacity and low-speed control, essential for its role as a light attack aircraft.

Additionally, engineers equipped the A-7 with a strengthened landing gear and arrestor hook, essential for carrier operations.

The prototype, designated YA-7A, first took to the skies in 1965. The testing phase proved largely successful, with the aircraft demonstrating its capabilities as an effective ground attack platform. Test pilots praised the A-7 for its handling characteristics and the effectiveness of its avionics systems.

After rigorous testing and refinements, the A-7 entered service with the United States Navy. The initial production model, the A-7A, featured further refinements based on feedback from the testing phase.

Each subsequent variant of the A-7 incorporated incremental improvements in avionics, engine performance, and weapon systems, reflecting the continuous evolution of the aircraft to meet the changing demands of modern warfare.

An early mockup of the A-7A.
An early mockup of the A-7A.

Ordinance Workhorse

At the heart of its armament, the A-7 carried a formidable 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon. This six-barreled, air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style rotary cannon was a standard in U.S. military aircraft, known for its high rate of fire and reliability.

The cannon allowed the A-7 to engage ground targets effectively and to defend itself in air-to-air combat, although its primary role was not as a fighter.

The A-7’s innovative bombing and navigation system was one of its standout features. This system, encompassing advanced avionics, allowed the aircraft to deliver conventional and precision-guided munitions with remarkable accuracy.

The Corsair II could employ a variety of bombs, including general-purpose bombs, cluster bombs, and later in its service life, laser-guided bombs. This versatility in payload made the A-7 a formidable ground-attack platform.

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In addition to bombs, the A-7 was capable of carrying and deploying guided missiles. It could equip AGM-62 Walleye, a television-guided glide bomb, and AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, which were effective against a wide range of ground targets, including armoured vehicles and fortified positions. The A-7 also had the capacity to carry AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for self-defence, enhancing its survivability in hostile environments.

Although a 'light' attacker, it could carry a huge array of weapons.
Although a ‘light’ attacker, it could carry a huge array of weapons.

The aircraft’s design included multiple hardpoints under its wings and fuselage. These hard points allowed the A-7 to carry a substantial payload, with the ability to mix and match armaments according to mission requirements. This tactical flexibility was crucial in allowing the A-7 to adapt to various combat scenarios, from deep strike missions to close air support.

Advanced Targeting Pods

Later in its service life, the A-7 saw the integration of advanced targeting pods. These pods, equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and laser designators, further enhanced the A-7’s precision strike capability. They allowed the aircraft to identify and engage targets with laser-guided bombs, even under challenging conditions, such as low visibility or at night.

Electronic Warfare Capabilities

The A-7 also featured electronic warfare capabilities. Some variants of the aircraft were equipped with systems for electronic countermeasures (ECM), which were crucial in suppressing enemy air defences. This feature allowed the A-7 to operate more safely in hostile airspace, jamming enemy radar and communication systems.

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Operational History

The Vought A-7 Corsair II first made its mark in the Vietnam War, where it proved to be a game-changer in ground-attack missions. Deployed initially by the United States Navy in 1967, the A-7 quickly demonstrated its effectiveness in this conflict.

Its precision strike capability, enabled by advanced navigation and attack systems, allowed it to hit targets with a level of accuracy that was previously unachievable. The A-7 played a crucial role in various operations, notably in Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Linebacker, where it conducted airstrikes against enemy infrastructure, supply lines, and troop concentrations.

The F4U and A-7 both shared the legendary Corsair name.
The F4U and A-7 both shared the legendary Corsair name.

Following its success in Vietnam, the A-7 continued to serve as a key component of the U.S. military’s tactical air power. It saw action in various other conflicts and operations.

In the 1980s, the A-7 participated in Operation El Dorado Canyon, the 1986 U.S. air strike against Libya, where it was used to attack military barracks and airfields. The precision and reliability of the A-7 were pivotal in minimizing collateral damage during these strikes.

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Role in the Gulf War

The Gulf War in 1991 marked another significant chapter in the operational history of the A-7. During this conflict, the A-7E variant played a vital role in conducting air interdiction and close air support missions. Its capability to carry a large payload and deliver it with precision made it a valuable asset in Operation Desert Storm. The A-7s were involved in suppressing enemy air defences, attacking armoured columns, and supporting ground troops, showcasing their versatility and effectiveness in modern warfare.

The A-7E was a significantly different aircraft from the A model.
The A-7E was a significantly different aircraft from the A model.

Service with Other Nations

The operational history of the A-7 extends beyond the United States. Several other nations adopted the A-7 for their air forces, recognising its capabilities and cost-effectiveness.

The Greek Air Force, Portuguese Air Force, and the Royal Thai Navy were among the international operators. In these services, the A-7 played a similar role, providing a reliable and capable platform for various combat and support missions.

The A-7 continued its service into the 1990s, although newer aircraft gradually replaced it. Its final operational deployments with the U.S. Navy and Air National Guard showcased the enduring nature of its design and capabilities.

When the A-7 was finally retired, it left a legacy as one of the most effective light attack aircraft in the history of military aviation. Its impact on aerial warfare tactics and the lessons learned from its operational history continues to influence modern combat aircraft design and deployment strategies.

An A-7G of the Hellenic Air Force departing RAF Fairford.
An A-7G of the Hellenic Air Force departing RAF Fairford.

Variants and Upgrades

The Vought A-7 Corsair II underwent a series of variants and upgrades throughout its service life, each designed to enhance its capabilities and address the evolving needs of modern warfare. This evolution began with the initial A-7A model and extended through to the advanced A-7E and beyond.

The journey of the A-7 variants started with the A-7A. This model was the first production version, equipped with the Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-6 turbofan engine. The A-7A featured initial avionics systems for navigation and weapon delivery but had limitations in terms of payload and range.

Responding to the need for improved performance, the A-7B model came into service. This variant saw an upgrade in its powerplant, employing the more powerful TF30-P-8 engine. The enhanced engine provided better thrust, thereby improving the aircraft’s overall performance, particularly in carrying heavier payloads.

The A-7C was a subsequent upgrade, primarily focusing on incorporating some of the avionic advancements that were being tested and implemented in later models. It served as a transitional model, bridging the gap between the early A-7s and the more advanced A-7D and A-7E.

The A-7D: A Leap for the Air Force

The A-7D was a significant leap, primarily designed for the United States Air Force. This variant represented a major overhaul in terms of both performance and technology. It featured the Allison TF41-A-1 engine, a license-built version of the Rolls-Royce Spey, which offered superior performance and efficiency.

The A-7D also boasted advanced avionics, including a head-up display (HUD), a modernized navigation system, and improved weapon delivery systems. It was the first A-7 variant to introduce the M61 Vulcan cannon, replacing the earlier twin 20mm cannons.

A pair of A-7Bs sharing the deck with an A-4C Skyhawk.
A pair of A-7Bs sharing the deck with an A-4C Skyhawk.

The A-7E variant embodied the pinnacle of the Corsair II’s development. This model incorporated the most advanced avionics and systems of all the A-7 variants. The A-7E featured an improved Allison TF41-A-2 engine and advanced weapon systems capable of deploying a wider range of munitions, including laser-guided bombs.

The avionics suite in the A-7E was a significant upgrade, with a new digital computer, multifunctional displays, and an inertial navigation system. These enhancements greatly increased the aircraft’s combat effectiveness and operational flexibility.

Adapting to Global Needs

In addition to the U.S. models, the A-7 saw service with several international forces, which led to the development of specific variants for these countries. The A-7H, for instance, was a variant designed for the Hellenic Air Force (Greece), featuring some unique modifications to meet their specific operational requirements.

Similarly, the A-7P was an export variant for the Portuguese Air Force, which included upgrades similar to the A-7E but tailored to Portugal’s needs.

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Throughout its service life, the A-7 underwent continuous upgrades to keep pace with technological advancements. These upgrades included enhancements in electronic countermeasures, targeting pods, and engine performance. Specialised configurations were also developed, such as the EA-7L, which was an electronic warfare variant used for training in electronic combat.